LAUREL—The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has proposed to increase the account maintenance fee (AMF) for customers from $11 to $16 for fiscal year 2016 while also proposing raising the water usage rate by 1 percent. Without the proposed AMF fee increase, the water usage would rise by 6 percent, said Jim Neustadt, a spokesman for […]
LAUREL—The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has proposed to increase the account maintenance fee (AMF) for customers from $11 to $16 for fiscal year 2016 while also proposing raising the water usage rate by 1 percent.
Without the proposed AMF fee increase, the water usage would rise by 6 percent, said Jim Neustadt, a spokesman for the WSSC. The company has not raised AMF fees in 24 years, but Neustadt said the commission has proposed shifting the price now to reflect the increasing cost of bringing water to every home and business while maintaining customers’ systems.
The AMF fee, according to WSSC, is the fee for maintaining an account, such as the cost of purchasing and reading meters; processing readings; generating and mailing bills; collecting payments; and providing customer services. Because WSSC has proposed raising the fee, Neustadt said the commission did not have to propose as high of an increase in the water-usage rate.
The WSSC is changing how it categorizes the money in its budget, Neustadt said, because when the AMF fee does not go up for 24 years, the money from the water usage rate covers the infrastructure costs.
“It shouldn’t have to do that,” Neustadt said.
The rate increase, combined with the increase in the AMF fees would add about $4.20 to the bill of customers who use 160 gallons per day.
Individuals typically use 70 gallons per day, Neustadt said.
“Some use more, some use less, some use way more—but that is what the rates are based on,” he said.
“WSSC, like many other water utilities around the country, is facing a financial conundrum. While the number of customers we serve continues to grow, water consumption is dropping. Yet the fixed costs required to run water distribution and sanitary sewer systems continue to rise,” Jerry Johnson, WSSC’s general manager, said. “This budget takes an important step in addressing the issue by shifting certain fixed costs.”
Customers have stopped using as much water as they used to, Neustadt said, for a variety of reasons.
“One is that one of those things that are in building codes and are federally mandated that say you have low flow toilets and low flow faucets and all these things,” Neustadt said. “Then you have a whole generation of people who were told, when they were born, don’t let the faucet run when you brush your teeth or shave and don’t waste water for the environment. Those are all real solid rules.”
Neustadt said the commission is aware of customers who complain that rates increase while they continue to use less water.
“Unfortunately, prices keep going up,” Neustadt said.
The commission proposed a customer-affordability plan, Neustadt said, to help consumers account for the increases the WSSC is proposing.
“We put a lot of pressure on our customers with rates, so we’re asking the General Assembly to create a plan for our customers who can least afford this,” Neustadt said. “We don’t have the details out yet, but we’re not reinventing the wheel and we’re not, ourselves, going to be making determinations about who qualifies and who doesn’t.”
Customers would get approved by federal agencies for aid, Neustadt said, and they would be approved for the WSSC as well. Such a plan will benefit customers, Neustadt said, because the chance of needing to increase the usage rate percentage decreases with the company already having a higher user base contributing to AMF fees.
“This year, we get the fee increase and we’re only asking for a 1 percent rate increase,” Neustadt said. “The whole idea is to say ‘Okay, you know what you’re paying in terms of the fees. We expect, with what you’re paying in rate increases the coming years, will not go up as fast’.”
The Montgomery Council Council and Prince George’s Council must both approve WSSC’s proposed budget before it goes into effect.